A fire burning in Whitehorse’s landfill since June 20 is contained after live embers flared up over the weekend, sending plumes of smoke over parts of the city. The blaze is now buried under a layer of soil, smouldering as the city figures out its next steps.
The fire is burning in the dump’s construction and demolition section, and has consumed the debris of recent demolitions in Whitehorse such as the old F.H. Collins high school.
“It’s timber, it’s drywall, it’s things like that,” said Peter O’Blenes, the director of infrastructure and operations at the City of Whitehorse.
It remains unclear how the fire started, but the city is not ruling out spontaneous combustion as a possibility, said O’Blenes.
Triggered by heat produced by the decomposition of organic matter in the dump, these fires are relatively common. Buried under layers of waste and soil, they are also difficult to extinguish and can smoulder for months.
The city plans to have the entire area covered with a metre of soil by the evening of June 25. While the fire continues to smoulder, O’Blenes said the fire department will continue monitoring the fire until it is completely extinguished.
The city is also working with a specialist from B.C. to determine what to do next, said O’Blenes. He said it’s impossible to know how much longer the fire will burn.
“If it’s not a threat, and not going to branch out to other areas of the facility, maybe we’ll just let it smoulder and it will extinguish itself once all the fuel is gone,” said O’Blenes. “We should really not be seeing any more smoke.”
The past few days have been busy for firefighters in the Whitehorse area. Approximately 25 people have been working each shift on a rotating 24-hour schedule to contain Saturday’s flare-up. Contractors, providing dump trucks, excavators and backhoes, also helped fight the fire, O’Blenes said.
The Whitehorse Fire Department asked the territorial government to activate its emergency coordination centre. WFD also got support from nearby volunteer fire departments and the Yukon Fire Service. That helped free up the Whitehorse department to deal with other fires in the city over the weekend.
At the June 25 regular council meeting, city administration requested a capital budget amendment of $2 million to cover expenses related to the fire.
O’Blenes said the estimated cost for the city to manage the fire is $100,000 a day. He said this covers the cost of having crews work around the clock to contain the fire and continue monitoring it.
The fire will require another five to six weeks of monitoring, O’Blenes said, which will include setting up boreholes and measuring the amount of carbon monoxide.
If it doesn’t burn itself out and workers have to dig the fire out to extinguish it, O’Blenes said the cost will be just under $1 million.
Linda Rapp, city manager, told council that because the requested money would come from general reserves, which are in place for this type of emergency, the amendment shouldn’t impact future taxes.
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